The number of people who speak Patu a blend of Portuguese and Cantonese is down to just 50 as the casino-dominated Las Vegas of the east continues to expand. Can they keep their native tongue alive?
Nowadays, nobody speaks much Patu. Only the old people speak Patu, declares 102-year-old Aida de Jesus as she sits across the table from her daughter inside Riquexo, the small Macanese restaurant that remarkably, despite her grand age, she runs to this day.
Patu is the name of De Jesus mother tongue, and she is one of its last surviving custodians. Known to those who speak it as Maquista, Patu is a creole language that developed in Malacca, Portugals main base in south-east Asia, during the first half of the 16th century, and made its way to Macau when the Portuguese settled there. It blends Portuguese with Cantonese and Malay, plus traces of other languages from stop-offs on the Portuguese trading route.
Patu developed to eventually become the language of Macaus indigenous Eurasian community: the Macanese. They first arose from intermarriages between Portuguese colonisers and the Chinese mostly Portuguese men marrying and starting families with Chinese women.